Maryland is hoping for crowd at last


"There should be a solid crowd for our homecoming game Saturday with Wake Forest," said University of Maryland spokesman Herb Hartnett.

"What's a 'solid' crowd?" he was asked.

"A big crowd," chimed in football coach Mark Duffner, ever the optimist.

The No. 1 embarrassment at Maryland is not the team's 1-5 record. Those who have watched the Terps know they're playing interesting, competitive football.

Despite that, and despite all the good press Maryland has received through upbeat, first-year coach Duffner, the team is drawing poorly.

Last Saturday there were 26,250 spectators in 45,000-seat Byrd Stadium for the Georgia Tech game. The home opener with North Carolina State on Sept. 12 drew 27,550.

The Terps once (in 1983) averaged 46,403 at home. Even last year they averaged 38,343 for four Byrd Stadium games.

But the largest crowd this season was the 35,891 for Pitt two weeks ago. This week, the "solid" crowd probably will top 35,000.

Many old grads come to one game a year -- homecoming -- and a university with 30,000 students has a lot of old grads. Last year's homecoming with Duke drew 35,423.

What's the reason Maryland is not drawing?

"I could give you eight reasons," said Andy Geiger, the athletic director.

"There are a lot of things to do on Saturdays in this area at this time of the year. My own 5-year-old has Little League soccer on Saturdays. The heavy rain last Friday hurt because all the high school games in the area were postponed and played Saturday.

"Everybody is playing now -- the Redskins, the Caps. The Orioles were selling out every game in September when we were getting started."

Geiger talked about the problem of starting times. Maryland has begun every game at a different one -- 12:10 p.m., 7 p.m., 4 p.m. This week it's 1:30 p.m. People can't figure out when this team plays.

Still, Geiger has been around enough to know what the real problem is.

"What it comes down to is we're not really accepted yet," he said. "When we start winning, they'll come."

Is football attendance a top priority with Geiger?

"My top priority," he said, "is getting the team good enough that people will want to come. You can't draw just by having gimmicks every week."

Geiger said he and his people will talk about having more night games. He believes next year's home schedule is attractive -- Virginia, West Virginia, Penn State, Florida State and Duke. Good attractions, to be sure -- especially if Maryland starts to win.

* Tony Vinson, Towson State's ace ball carrier, was running wild -- a record 256 yards in one game -- until he was held to 42 yards on 17 carries at Delaware State last week. But his coach, Gordy Combs, remains confident of Vinson's ability.

"Hey, Tony also had 121 yards as a pass receiver last week," said Combs. "These teams are concentrating on Tony now, so we dump the ball off to him. We had 70 offensive plays at Delaware State and Tony touched the ball 25 times."

Combs has an additional reason to believe Vinson will play well Saturday in Williamsburg, Va., against William & Mary.

"He's from down that way," Combs said. Vinson grew up in Newport News, some 30 miles from the William & Mary campus.

* The Cadillac Columbus Cup yacht races here last weekend, won by Texan John Kolius, went off without a hitch. That's quite a compliment to all those who worked on it.

The closest thing to a hitch, said Kin Yellott, one of the regatta managers, came when Omega watches wanted to become the title sponsor. Cadillac insisted on continuing in that role. Your event is in good shape when sponsors are fighting over you.

* It's so transparent why some people are criticizing Redskins coach Joe Gibbs for refusing to punch it in for a last-minute touchdown in the 34-3 win over Denver Monday night.

The critics are the ones who lost over-under bets because of Gibbs' decency to an opponent that was already badly beaten. One enraged L.A. talk-show host claimed gambling has made the NFL what it is and Gibbs' decision to run out the clock caused $50 million not to change hands.

I'm no Redskins fan. I'm too "Baltimore" for that. But you have to respect Joe Gibbs. He has coached the Redskins for 11 years and has been in four Super Bowls. That's a lot of limelight, and never once, as far as I know, has he acted like a jerk.

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